Splendid panto from First Act

By Michael Mullin

Pantomime season is officially under way, with First Act’s exuberant Peter Pan. The tale of pixies, pirates and child abduction was brought to life with professionalism and pizzazz. The eclectic score suited the performers’ vocal ranges, with ambitious choreography, from adorable solos to dazzling group-numbers.

Our storytellers opened the show confidently and complimented each other wonderfully. Aaron Danvers Jukes possessed effortless characterisation and comedic timing, while Sarah Louise McEvoy’s fantastic diction made her the perfect “straight man”. Island amateur actors could learn about projection from First Act – speaking and singing volume was notably strong throughout.

Kayleigh France exuded charisma, as Peter uplifting the cast with energy, whenever she appeared. She, Wendy Todd (capturing Wendy’s heroic spirit rather than playing some damsel in distress), Christopher Ayers (John) and Marie Smith (Michaela) displayed an impressive command of the stage.

Opposing our heroes was a ragtag pirate horde, led by James Soley’s spectacularly camp Captain Hook. His hilarious delivery and mannerisms had the crowd laughing, booing and eating out of his hand. He was perhaps too endearing – I felt almost bad for him during his inevitable murder-by-crocodile.

The supporting cast each had a moment to shine. Carl Harvey almost stole the show as Nana, the dog, and the Croc. Dynamic duo, Tinks & Bell (Lisa Carter and Maggie Murthwaite), presented Tinkerbell’s fiery and adorable sides as two different entities.

Ashleigh Jones’ Smee boasted fabulous bass vocals that shone.

While First Act is a group that features performers with additional needs, it would be wrong to judge this production by alternative standards. The performances stand up to the most scathing of critiques on their own merits: director, Rowan Lathey, and the entire team should be incredibly proud. The (splendidly costumed) members of staff, aside from the occasional timely prompt, were left figuratively twiddling their thumbs – the cast perfectly able to navigate the stage independently.

Ultimately, contemplating the intricacies of stagecraft misses the point in pantomime: it’s how it makes you feel and the enthusiasm and energy exuding from Shanklin Theatre’s stage during this production make it undeniably a resounding success.

Peter Pan performances were on November 28 and 29.